Friday, September 2, 2011

Some Reflections on Being FakeJohnPiper

A couple of years ago for some strange reason I began an anonymous Twitter account called @fakejohnpiper. I think I was inspired by some of the better "fakes" out there, but I don't remember which ones specifically. My aim at the time was to affectionately parody a man whose writing and preaching I admire very much. This is an important point for me to make, because every now and then FJP will receive @replies or DM's from folks asking if the tweeter behind FJP actually likes Piper or not. And some people who do not like Piper appear to like FJP, assuming he is on their critical side.

The reality is that while I've never met John Piper, I am alive today in part because God used his preaching (and Mark Driscoll's, another controversial figure) to pour the gospel into my life at a time of profound brokenness punctuated by moments of my contemplating checking out of this world. I was not hearing the free grace, great love, and redeeming goodness of God at my church: but I was hearing it from the podcasts of these men and in their writing.

The first person I "outed" myself to was Eric Johnson, who worked for Desiring God at the time. I hadn't planned to do that, but I was at The Gospel Coalition Conference three years ago and discovered Johnson was a panelist at Band of Bloggers, which I was attending. After the event, there is always a little meet and greet, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself. I didn't want to assume any of the DG guys had even heard of FJP, so that was the first thing I asked Eric: "Have you heard of a Twitter account called FakeJohnPiper?"

Eric looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Why, are you him?" I got a little nervous. I said yes and then shared my real reason for "coming out": I wanted to make sure if anybody on "Piper's team" -- his wife and kids, his church staff, his friends, etc. -- thought FJP had ever crossed the line, they would have a real name and face to hold accountable. I assured Eric that I only ever meant to honor Piper by lampooning him -- and let's be honest, most of the time I'm lampooning a caricature of the man, not really the man himself -- but if I ever offended him or anybody close to him, I wanted him to have my real name so he could let me know and I could apologize, delete, what-have-you. Eric assured me that they actually found the feed funny. I left feeling understood.

My approach to FJP tweets has morphed a bit over its short life. I started both by trying to satirize Piper's apparent super-seriousness and his exultational Calvinism, but I also began to include some absurdist elements, trying to provoke laughter simply because the image conjured was ridiculous. John Piper trash talking like a gangsta, for instance. Or putting him at the Y taking hip hop classes. Or using nunchuks. I played up some of the idiosyncrasies many know about Piper: his appreciation for Savers and frugality, his "out of touch"-ness as it pertains to popular culture, his prolific writing, etc. It is not easy to be funny, but it was always easy to find things in the Pipersphere to tweak simply because he's such a singular figure.

FJP began to grow in popularity, and I have to confess, as a published writer under my own name, I was getting a little jealous of my alter ego as his Twitter follower count eclipsed my own. But I was glad that people seemed to find him funny.

Here's my take on why some fake Twitter accounts are funnier than others: It has a lot to do with the person behind it being a genuinely funny person, of course, but it has an awful lot to do with how well the tweeter likes the person he's spoofing. I find that the affectionate parodies are funnier than the "mean" ones. FakePastorMark is hilarious. FakeDriscoll is like the relative at the party you keep trying to find ways to not be around. The woman behind FakeDriscoll may think her platform more accurately captures Mark Driscoll's real personality, but it is certainly a huge fail when it comes to satire. She is not satirizing Driscoll so much as just venting her own anger.

I find FakePlanter very funny, and I suspect the person behind him is a real church planter. But while I should find many of the fakes of Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, and Joel Osteen funny, I usually don't, and it's because it's obvious these tweeters hate their subjects. I think one could funnily lampoon these guys in a short piece, but the sustained material of a Twitter feed over time reveals some bitterness that just isn't funny. I myself even tried out a feed where I satirized the typical fundamentalist-y "Reformed Baptist" type. I couldn't sustain it because I was driven by a need to hammer that kind of thing.

The highlight for me in tweeting FJP was finding out John Piper himself had read the feed and found it funny. This was, for me, like if I'd found out Tom Brady thought I had a good throwing arm or nice hair. I once tweeted as FJP "The chief end of Fake John Piper is to hear the real John Piper say 'Good one!' and enjoy that forever." Well, that aim came true when, as John Piper announced his year-long sabbatical last year he sent FJP -- not me, mind you, but the fake him that I tweet -- a Direct Message that simply said, "You have been a joy to me. Thanks for the ride." I printed that notice out for the wife's scrapbook, don'tchaknow.

Later, Piper was asked on an "Ask Pastor John" DesiringGod Live program what he thought of FJP and when he said he found it funny and many times accurate, I was greatly encouraged to know that I hadn't offended the man, that he felt oddly honored by the parody, and that he had a sense of humor that made him worthy to be skewered that way.

When John Piper announced his year-long sabbatical, I decided I couldn't tweet as FJP during his absence. It would've felt weird. Plus he wouldn't be supplying me with material to skewer. Part of the FJP approach was to find lampoon-able gems in his prolific blogs, tweets, and sermons. With those gone for the time being, I figured I'd pack it in too. And I also assumed that after a year of not exercising the FJP muscle, I wouldn't feel like picking it back up again anyway. So I "retired" FJP and outed myself publicly as the tweeter behind him. I got a lot of commendation, which was nice, including from some big-name pastors and seminary professors I never would've guessed actually read FJP. That was kinda cool.

Then when the real John Piper returned to public ministry I wondered if I could pull a Brett Favre with FJP. So I tried it. And even though a few people thought it was a mistake -- one guy seemed really upset by the return, actually, which is weird -- most people seemed happy FJP was back. I have found that in this new stage of FJP's existence, it is harder to come up with regular material. So I have a new approach to FJP which is simply to let inspiration come and not to be intentional in trying to tweet every day or a few times a week.

Here are some of my favorites of FakeJohnPiper's tweets:

- all of the "Desiring God theme park" tweets that followed this one: Thanks to a generous grant, we are pressing forward with plans for a Desiring God theme park . . .

- I got the skills to pay the bills. Except when people use the "pay what you can afford" option.

- If you summerolaters are getting a kiddie pool, you better be baptizing people in it.

- I have prayed for the gift of tongues, but received the gift of gestures.

- Preaching at Mars Hill Seattle this weekend. Still shaken from Driscoll's welcome noogies

- I will be on the road 200 weekdays in 2010, preaching the gospel. You'll be on your couch all year, picking your nose.

- Perry Noble uses lots of exclamation points. Know who else does? Girls.

- I was RT'd 260+ times this morning. Good job. Idolaters

- (On Thanksgiving): Turkey is most glorified in you when you are most stuffed with it.

- 36 idolatry days left till Christmas. Which you'll probably also be idolatrous on.

- Factoid No. 1: "Don't Waste Your Life" originally titled "Don't Mess Around Doing Things That Aren't Important, God-wise."

- Preaching at @MarsHill this year. Will need to break out some edgier language like "shenanigans" and "uvula"

- Working on some Facebook apps with the Desiring God nerd team. "John has thrown an imprecatory psalm at you . . ."

- Phone peddler just asked if I had a retirement plan. I said yes. It's called "death."

- Preaching to college students keeps me young. Also keeping me young: Tuesday night hip hop classes at the downtown Y

- The 401K was invented for quitters

- Greg Boyd invited me to a surprise party for a mutual friend. Told him I'd only attend if he called it a "God is Never Surprised" Party

- Instructing church hostess to change all ads for the Bethlehem Fellowship Potluck to read Fellowship Potpredestination

- Black Friday: I am meditating on the cross of Christ. You are out shopping for a Wee or whatever it's called

- Starting an Everyday Sex Challenge series at Bethlehem this morning. Oh, wait that's not me. 'Cause I'm not an idiot

- Rear-ended someone while erranding. Tried to explain that calamities are the work of God for our good, but she just wanted my insurance info

- I have 48 books coming out this year


chrisblackstone said...

I really needed that collection of FJP tweets this morning. I'm crying from laughing so hard

L said...

My favorite was this:

Working on some Facebook apps with the Desiring God nerd team. "John has thrown an imprecatory psalm at you . . ."

I laughed out loud at work, literally, not like LOL on the keyboard. :)

I appreciate your FakeJP because I have tremendously love for the real John Piper. What you're saying about other "fake" accounts is spot on though. You really have to consider the place the phony is coming from to evaluate it, and actually be able to see if the humor is crossing the line.

Mark Heath said...

Great work with FJP, who is one of my favourite fakes (I have to say, you were on my list of suspects of who it could be - there was a certain panache to FJP that set him apart from the crowd of unfunny fakes).

As someone who also runs a fake twitter alter-ego (far less well-known than FJP), I can also identify with the concern about how the recipient of your satire is taking it. Thankfully I have been assured that the guy I parody doesn't take offense.

Michael Kelley said...

I cannot stop laughing at this.

Brandon Clements said...

I always love FJP...hilarious stuff. Thanks for staying the course!

†Miguel said...

I listend to Piper for years before coming to Lutheranism. He's as good a teacher as a Baptist can be, and I am grateful for his work. But these are just funny. Offensive? Nah. If you're popular, you either get roasted or you're too boring.

Gary Horn said...

I agree with you. You need to love something in order to lampoon it in a way that helps other people love it also.

RealRobBaal said...

How dare you ignore me! Farewell, fake John Piper!


Nate Tallman said...

I created a "satire" twitter account for a well known preacher. I tweeted once, then sat on it for a very long time before realizing that good satire is based on respect and love, of which I had none for my object (no respect, but love for the lost).

Thanks for FJP and for understanding what makes it awesome.

frankfusion said...

That's you!!!????? Well I am a fake account myself, but I'm not telling. And your humor is spot on.

Gary Buffaloe said...

For what it is worth, I think you are one of the best fakers in the Twitterverse ;).

Chris Surratt said...

It was an honor to have our name mentioned in a couple of FJP tweets. My favorite tweet was: "During the break from questions I evangelized 2 people and wrote 1/3 of a book chapter. What'd you do? Use the commode? (I did that too.)"

Ed said...


Ed Stetzer

nhe said...

Jared, I honestly can't decide which is more cool......that you are FJP, or that your wife has 5 fantasy football teams this season - btw, is the latter really true?......if it is, then she is even more awesome than Cameron Diaz in "Something About Mary" when she said....."Wanna go upstairs and watch SportsCenter?" That line totally had me at hello - I can't imagine a 5 FFB team wife.....oh my gosh.

Jared said...

Yes, it's true.

Today she's wearing a shirt that says "Fantasy Football Legend."

Anonymous said...

She has to be the only pastor's wife in America with 5 FFB teams......that is so beyond awesome that there aren't words.....I wonder what the FJP would say about that?

prin said...


I used to like the fake Chandler (since disappeared) who would just tweet, "Hey, how are we? Let's get started," every so often. :D